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Diversity, Discrimination and Harassment

A Discussion Paper


Creating a positive, respectful and productive working environment - the major challenge ahead

In the world of management development a great deal of focus is on the skills and approaches in getting people to work together more effectively; and it is most important that we do spend energy on building teams and creating effective organisations.

Yet we must also be alert to those things and behaviours that create barriers between employees. The things that pull teams apart and that break down good working relationships.

Sexual harassment, racial discrimination, stereotyping cultures or behaviour, bullying and intimidation are all things that we hope and wish did not exist in the workplace. Yet they do and they need to be faced up to positively and firmly.

It's not just the responsibility of the Human Resource specialists but of all managers and employees throughout the organisation.

It needs to be tackled at the policy level where both preventative and resolution issues need to be addressed.

The purpose of the policy should be

Prevention aspects

  • To promote an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding,
  • To provide protection for the potent,
  • To discourage behaviour and actions that are discriminatory or harassing.

Resolution aspects

  • To empower those with insufficient power to stop the behaviour.
  • To support people who feel harassed to find appropriate resolution.

Policy operating principles would be

  1. Resolution should be at lowest level possible
  2. It should be as informal as possible
  3. The policy has an educating role regarding appropriate behaviour
  4. Line managers maintain responsibility rather than Human Resources.

It's also everyone's responsibility so everyone needs to be aware of their role in preventing and resolving the incidences.

Our experience has shown us that this needs to be done on at least three distinct levels.

Awareness Raising Sessions For All Staff

All employees need to be made aware of their rights and responsibilities in how relationships within the workplace operate. They need to understand what constitutes harassment and discrimination and the mechanisms in place to deal with it, as well as having some useful ways to deal with 'grey' areas. Our sessions have given employees the opportunity to discuss some real case examples and to air their concerns and fears regarding the legislation and policy guidelines of the organisation.

Line Managers Sessions

The responsibility for creating and maintaining a positive and productive working environment has always fallen within the accountability of the manager who has responsibility over that working environment. Many managers have been tempted to believe that because of the sensitive nature of harassment and discrimination issues that it should be the 'specialist' responsibility of the HR Department. When handling a diversity of cultures or some questionable behaviour what happens at the small group level between individuals is by far the most powerful level for resolving this. From our experience the major focus for this group of managers is for them to develop ways of creating that positive respectful working environment and to have them gain confidence in how they can handle differences and misunderstandings early enough to 'nip them in the bud'.

Contact Officers and Grievance Officers

With the best will in the world, however, no large, complex organisation can rest on the belief that no serious violations of their policies (and the legislation) will ever occur.

It needs then a mechanism and a place for dealing with the more serious cases. It needs groups of especially aware and sensitive, and well-trained people for just such eventualities.

There are two levels at which these officers can be trained.

The first produces the 'Contact Officer'. This person should be someone easily accessible, both geographically and psychologically, to staff. Their role is strictly that of a support and signpost. They are people who are fully aware of employees' rights and responsibilities and the mechanisms set in place by the organisation to counteract harassment and discrimination. They are able then, to make people aware of their rights and to point them in the direction of how it can be resolved, offering them support along the way, whilst not taking on the problem or responsibility for resolving it.

The second level provides people who have becomes skilled in resolving conflicts of this nature within that workforce. Depending on the size and complexity of the organisation these can be a relatively small group of people and may often be associated with HR functions.

In summary, an organisation today needs to assist its staff in taking on the responsibility of consciously and deliberately building a positive, respectful and productive working environment. It needs to ensure that any difficulties are resolved as early as possible, as informally as possible, and at the lowest level in the hierarchy as possible.

Where things do erupt and get out of hand, it needs to have a mechanism which provides support and resolution quickly and effectively.


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